With my seven-months-pregnant belly leading the way, I headed into first day of level one Catechesis of the Good Shepherd training one muggy, Chicago summer day. The week that followed was thoughtful, “wonder”-full, and everything I hoped it’d be. I expected to have a deeper understanding of the child. I expected to have a more profound sense of the liturgy. I expected to be challenged to see the catechetical task differently. What I didn’t expect is how the friendships formed during our training opened up my heart to see motherhood in a new way.
Our group of trainees came from all walks of life: mothers, grandmothers, single missionaries, teachers, stay-at-home moms, parish catechists. One woman, who I’ll call Debbie, is about sixty, and, at the time, was about to start her job as principal at a new school in the fall. I couldn’t help but wonder how this came to be. At sixty, I expect most people to begin considering retirement, especially from an all-consuming field like education. “I’m a mom to four children, proud grandmother, and have been teaching for over thirty years,” she told me. “This is where I’m being called now, though. It’s a strange thing. I’ve never had this type of role before, but I’m of the mind that as women, we have to look at life seasonally, and never have too firm an idea of what a season will look like.”
This is where I’m being called now, though.
Like most all pregnant women, I found myself incredibly anxious about the choices I felt I needed to make before I gave birth. The decision taking up the most mental space in my brain was whether I’d go back to work, and if I so, when? Will I be a working mom? A stay at home parent? Common questions keeping more than one new parent up at night, I know.
Talking to Debbie, and so many other women I admire since, has led me to a new outlook on personal decision making in parenthood, particularly motherhood. As women, we live in an intensely seasonal way. This is reflected in our very bodies: our cycles reflect constant, yet fairly predictable change. Whether you’re a self-proclaimed control freak like me or not, we are really, really good at change and following our body’s “seasons.” When I embraced this physiological reality as a means of living my emotional, mental, and professional life, something just clicked. It felt peaceful, just, and comfortable – like I’d been forcing myself to wear six-inch-heels for too long, and I was finally able to walk around barefoot – a little weird and strangely painful at first (I like control! I like making decisions in a final, total way!) After a few minutes though, I could feel the cool, grainy sand between my toes and breathe a sigh of relief.
As women, we live in an intensely seasonal way. This is reflected in our very bodies: our cycles reflect constant, yet fairly predictable change.
For too long, I’d been seeing “work or stay at home” question in a way that was far too permanent. I desired to make a “seasonal” decision in a “once-and-for-all” way. But the truth is, I can count on one hand the “once-and-for-all” decisions I’ve needed to make it my life: deciding to follow Jesus, my vocation to marriage, and the person I’d marry. The only “once-and-for-all” decisions are rare and reserved for pivotal, heart-changing moments. The only final, total decision you truly make as a mother is deciding to love this child, this little stranger entering your life, for as long as you’ll live. The other stuff? Staying at home v. working? Cloth diapering v. disposals? Breast feeding v. formula? And on and on? Seasonal. These decisions change as the demands and settings of our lives change. Holding these choices loosely, whether they’re major or minor, is key for peaceful parenthood. I wanted to decide “what kind of mother will I be?” when really, I can only ask myself, “what kind of mother will I be… in this season?”
I wanted to decide “what kind of mother will I be?” when really, I can only ask myself, “what kind of mother will I be… in this season?”
Admitting this eased my mind as I stared at this decision I’d make to stay at home or go back to work. Maybe I’d be like Debbie, where I’d have seasons of staying at home, working part or full time, and, just when I think I’d be slowing down, God calls me in a new way.
If you’re like me, “seasonal living” is not comfortable or easy. While admitting my feminine-seasonal nature has been liberating, I’ve also needed to spend a good bit of time trying it on and walking around for a while in it. It is requiring something of me – an ability to listen to the call of God with a new urgency and awareness. To pray more. To shut my mouth more. To discern with more care what brings me joy and contentment. I’m 100% a work in progress, but I’m desirous to fully embrace this new way of thinking, and I think God can work with that.
Kelley Dawson is a wife to David, mom to Molly, and theology teacher at a college preparatory for women in Phoenix, AZ. She’s figuring out how to cook, exercise, and basically be a normal human again with a baby. She is a graduate of the Master of Divinity program at the University of Notre Dame.